My first summer home after graduating from college I cheated on a proficiency test at a temp agency. I was having trouble finding a job and someone (I think it was my mom) suggested I go to a temp agency and see if I could get a good placement. It took a little more searching before I decided a temp agency was one of my only options. My ego took a hit, but I did walk into an agency located on Main Street in Longmont, CO.
The first thought I had inside the door was that this place is not going to find me a job that I would ever like. Run. But I didn’t. I stayed, sat down with a nice lady, explained my situation, surprise, I’m jobless and looking for work. She nodded several hundred times and concluded that I, just like everyone else that walks in the door, had to take a few tests in order for the agency to determine where I was skilled—if anywhere.
I was ushered to a back room full of cubicles and old computers. The computer led me through some typing and data entry tests. I excelled in the typing tests and was feeling confident. I wasn’t as fast on the keypad for data entry, but I was still feeling pretty good. I was even hoping for the lady to look at my report and recommend me to some company right away because she had never seen typing that fast before.
Then came the math section. I was rusty, but I was doing just fine until I got to long division. Holy crap! When was the last time I had to do long division? I thought for a moment, maybe 7th grade…maybe a little earlier or later? I didn’t know when I performed it last, but worse than that, I didn’t know how to do it anymore. I didn’t even know where to start. Of course I could rely on just working the problem through in my mind, but I knew there would be decimals and I wasn’t trusting of my ability to get this right. I considered my options. 1) Leave these questions blank because there is no way I can get the right number down or 2) slyly pull my cell phone from my pocket and take advantage of the calculator. For me, at that moment, it was a pretty easy decision to make even though I wasn’t proud of it. I busted out my cell phone and tapped out the problems and within a few seconds I had the right answers to the thousandth decimal point.
Now, I don’t know if they had cameras back there or if the fact that I didn’t show my work tipped them off to my cheating, but I only heard from the temp agency once and it was for a very short manual labor job I was trying to avoid from the beginning. I didn’t tell anyone about it and I had a hard time overcoming the fact that I couldn’t do a few long division problems, but I was determined to never use a calculator again when faced with a long division problem, which was good, because three years later I cracked open a GRE study book and listed before my eyes was a page of long division problems. It was time to call in the mathematician in the house, my wife. I recruited her for a lesson, which lasted all of two minutes before something clicked and grade school math was once again a breeze and not something I had to fear running into again at a temp agency or on the GRE.